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What two key strategies is Netflix using to smartly draw in ME viewers?

What’s on the tube?

It’s a question that many of us ask on daily basis.

An internet entertainment service provider wants middle east TV viewers to instead ask: Did you see the latest from Netflix? Wow!

Grabbing a Middle East audience is no easy task but how is Neflix trying to do it?

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Arabic content

Netflix is using a winning formula by focusing on the Middle East audience’s preferences: Adventure and Comedy.

These two categories are watched by almost all ages.

In fact, Statista, the statistics portal reveals that around 35% of the audience in the Middle East is very much into adventure movies.

Netflix, the entertainment provider has announced lately the production of its first original Arabic series titled Jinn.

The six-episode thriller revolves around teenagers who discover a genie in the ancient Jordanian city of Petra.

The series, which will be filmed in Jordan, will feature Middle Eastern cast and production crew with Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya and Jordanian screenwriter, Bassel Ghandour.

The series is expected to be released to all Netflix members in 2019.

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“I love that Netflix is investing a lot in the region, it’s a real turning point,” Bassel Ghandour, the Jordanian screenwriter for the series, was quoted by CNN Money as saying. “We have such a rich storytelling culture, and we’ll finally be able to enjoy Arabic content with Netflix quality,” he added.

Jinn marks Netflix’s second project involvement in the region. Netflix’s first project was Adel Karam: Live from Beirut, an Arabic stand-up comedy special which is due to for release on March 1st.

Actor and comedian Adel Karam is already a familiar face to Arab audiences.

Netflix picked Karam whose shows are known to be somewhat controversial for tackling contentious issues.

“I say things as they are – I have no taboos. It’s going to be a little bit shocking for Arab audiences, just a little, because it’s new. I use insults; it can be surprising. They’re not used to an Arabic comedian using insult – it’s shocking for them,” he said in a statement to The National.

So why is Netflix increasing its focus on the Middle East region?

Great market

Netflix’s chief executive Reed Hastings described the Middle East as a “great market” for Netflix as “there is strong interest in internet video of all sorts”.

To date, Netflix has produced a handful of documentaries in the Middle East among which is The White Helmets which won the company’s first Oscar, for best documentary.

“Hopefully there will be less documentaries about Syria,” Hastings was quoted by Campaign Me as saying. “We’re also doing feature films and more of our work is on the TV series side.”

According to Campaign Me, Netflix is trying to tap into the regional interest in TV shows, particularly during Ramadan.

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The media platform reveals that Middle East is one region where Netflix hopes to see strong growth.

“For us the Middle East is a big area of investment because state TV is highly regulated and so it doesn’t please that many people,” says Hastings. “So the internet – whether that’s YouTube or Netflix or Starz Play or Starz Arabia, any of those – has a real excitement because you can get relatively uncensored and interesting stories.”

Small Middle East audience

According to estimates by analytics firm IHS Markit, at the end of 2016 Netflix had just 137,000 subscribers across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Arab News reveals that piracy and the offering of quality content for free have already played their role in keeping pay TV in MENA very low.

“Around 10 percent of TV households in MENA subscribe to pay TV,” IHS Markit analyst Max Signorelli told Arab News.

“These factors are definitely impacting upon the growth of services like Netflix. However, IHS Markit has noticed that in the last few years an ever-increasing portion of premium content is moving under a paywall. Operators like OSN and beIN Media… are investing heavily in acquiring and licensing premium content. So definitely there are challenges, but also the MENA region has a high potential for growth for SVoD (subscription video on demand) services.”

Hurdles to Netflix cornering MENA also include other Over The Top (OTT) services — internet-specific entertainment providers — already vying for market share, including Starz Play Arabia, icflix, Shahid Plus and Seevii.